Helping veterans: Dinsmore attorney works to launch local 'Wills for Heroes' program

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

For former Marines Corps Captain John Chau, the recent Veterans’ Day remembrance, as always, had special meaning and further inspired his continuing efforts to help fellow veterans.

A patent attorney and partner at Dinsmore & Shohl in Detroit, Chau is coordinating the firm’s local efforts to bring the Wills for Heroes Foundation (WHF) to Detroit, working closely with Dinsmore’s offices around the country that also are supporting this American Bar Association initiative.

“WHF is a great opportunity to serve not only veterans and first responders, but their wives,” Chau says. “I remember having to update my will before deploying to Iraq. If not for that event, I would have never given it another thought. I believe the WHF will help remind veterans and first responders of the importance of keeping their will current, and providing this service pro-bono will give them the incentive to do so.”

Passionate about lending a hand to fellow veterans, Chau’s efforts include providing pro-bono legal services to veterans, and organizing the office’s care package drive for 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines currently deployed on a crisis response operation.

Chau, who earned his B.S. in Control Systems Engineering from the United States Naval Academy in 1998, joined the Marines because he wanted to serve.

“I was born in Cambodia, and my parents fled the Khmer Rouge – everyone on my Dad’s side of the family was killed during the Cambodian revolution,” he explains. “My parents never let me forget the opportunities this country has afforded me. I wanted to repay my ‘debt,’ and I thought the best way of doing so was to serve. The Naval Academy is known as a leadership institution, and I felt it would help me best serve this country.”   

Following his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, Chau was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California. He deployed to the Middle East three times, including one tour as a captain serving as a Company Executive Officer in Iraq for a mechanized infantry company.

“I cannot express how humbled I feel to have served as an infantry officer,” he says. “It’s a privilege to have been able to lead Marines in combat. I truly believe the military is one of the few professions that reward people without consideration of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs or their political opinions.

“It also serves as a crucible for transformation and gives people a second chance,” he adds. “My platoon included people from opposite ends of the social-economic spectrum – from former gang-members from east L.A., to kids that graduated from private school. No one cared – it was all about performance and not just individual performance, but the platoon’s performance.”

According to Chau, the Naval Academy and the Marines opened up doors for him that otherwise might have been closed.

“However, not all veterans are as lucky, and I feel it’s my responsibility to help where I can,” he says.  “I remember the random letters I received from people when I was in Iraq – it sounds cheesy, but those letters were really appreciated.

“I want Marines to understand they are not forgotten – which may be easy for them to feel in light of our involvement in the Middle East winding down and the focus on the upcoming change in the White House.”

Named to Michigan Super Lawyers Rising Stars, Chau has been interested in the law since boyhood when he enjoyed discussing politics with a man who sponsored Chau’s family when they arrived in the U.S.

“He encouraged me to express my opinions and challenged me on my positions,” Chau says. “I’m sure many of my positions were completely ill formed, but he sat through my absurdities nonetheless.”

For Chau, who earned his juris doctor cum laude from Ave Maria School of Law, patent law was a perfect choice, given his undergrad degree in control systems engineering.

He had particularly enjoyed his undergrad senior year capstone project that involved designing an eco-house with a battery tank for supplying power to meet the residential load, a simulated roof made of solar cells and a fan modified to become a windmill. A plurality of sensors read the battery tank and the residential load so as to dip into the battery tank when there was sufficient power to meet the residential load and switch power to the commercial power grid when there wasn’t sufficient power in the battery tank.

“To me, being a patent attorney allowed me to continue learning about systems and to be part of the inventive process of Americans,” he says.

Chau’s career path has been paved with intriguing patents, including those for automotive control systems, medical devices, and home appliances. In one particularly memorable case, he helped draft a patent on a unique way of articulating retractor blades for minimally invasive spinal procedures.

“It was a really fun and rewarding process – fun because the technology is so new, and rewarding because the technology will help reduce recovery time for patients,” he says.

Chau remains very involved with the Naval Academy, where he serves as a Blue and Gold Officer (BGO), a position that includes interviewing academy candidates.

“Before, I read a lot of articles expressing concern over millennials taking over the workforce.  After having an opportunity to meet numerous millennials, I’m confident our country is in great hands,” he says.

“I presented an appointment to the Naval Academy to one of my candidates last spring at her high school, and told the students I’m confident I would not have been accepted had I competed with these candidates. These kids are truly amazing. The test scores remain relatively the same since I attended, but their community involvement is off the charts.”

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